Health sector feels AIDS impact

Kerry Cullinan

Some 16,3% of health workers are living with HIV, while at least 6000 health workers could be dying every year from AIDS-related illnesses, according to Dr Olive Shisana of the Human Science Research Council (HSRC).

These were preliminary findings of a study Shisana conducted recently for the Department of Health on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health sector.

The HIV prevalence sample was drawn from the voluntary testing of health workers countrywide, while the mortality statistics were projections based on death notifications compiled by Stats SA between 1997 and 2002.

The highest HIV prevalence rates were in the North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, while non-professional staff (20,3%) and staff between the ages of 18 and 35 (20%) were worst affected, Shisana told the South African AIDS Conference in Durban this week.

"This obviously has implications for the future supply of health staff, as the younger group is worst affected," said Shisana, who conducted the study on the impact of HIV on the health sector on behalf of the Department of Health.

Shisana’s study also found that non-HIV patients were being crowded out of health facilities by people with AIDS.

"There has been no dramatic increase in patients over the past five years, but there has been a substantial increase in AIDS patients – in some cases, a four-fold increase," said Shisana. "So what has happened to the HIV negative patients? They have been crowded out and are unlikely to get healthcare."

In district hospitals, HIV positive patients were hospitalised for an average of 20 days and HIV negative people for five days.

Healthworkers were feeling exhausted and stressed by dealing with AIDS patients, who needed a high degree of attention and care. They felt helpless to prevent the spread of HIV.

In addition, the fact that HIV/AIDS was not a notifiable disease meant that they did not know which patients posed a risk to them. In addition, they felt torn as they could not tell patients’ partners and families their HIV status and thus protect them from infection.

The healthworkers surveyed proposed that HIV should be made notifiable and that there should be compulsory testing of patients. They also proposed free medication and care for people living with HIV.

What was disappointing was that only 34% of professionals and 23,6% of non-professionals had been trained to care for those infected with HIV, said Shisana. Only 43% of public hospital managers had seen government’s national AIDS plan, while only 7% of private hospital managers were aware of it.

Meanwhile, in a separate session at the conference Public Service and Administration official N Chauke reported that the national medical aid being planned for the country’s 1,1 million public servants would include a comprehensive HIV/AIDS management programme including antiretroviral drugs.

Chauke said her department had also appointed a health risk manager to assist those at risk of HIV.(Source: Health-e 05 August 2003).